Archive for Law Enforcement

President Hillary nixes Pardon for Sanders/The Burlington College Thing

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Babyface Bernie

Now that Hillary has schlonged him by hook and crook, Bernie needs to fear for his future. Sure, Hillary will be forced to do a reach-out. Bernie will get the star treatment at the Dem Convention. Progressive promises will be made. The party platform will be symbolically tweaked. Little Debbie may even go down. But if Hillary is elected president, vengeance will be hers.

Bill Clinton has already said Bernie’s supporters will be “toast” come election day. Can Bernie’s burn be far behind? The strength of Bernie’s challenge has been a humiliation for Hillary. And she doesn’t do forgive and forget. Not for Hill that Godfather distinction between personal and business. Political opponents aren’t reps of valid difference; they’re agents of the perpetually churning vast conspiracy (launched by the right, swollen by the left) out to get the Clintons.

First, they came for Bill.

Then they came for Hill.

Trying to cheat her of the throne she’s earned by being married to him.

O to be a fly in the mind of potential President Hillary as she plots Senator Sanders’ future

“I’ll show that socialist nobody. How dare he manspread all over MY party. I’ll put his office in the Senate basement bathroom. Committees? Don’t make me laugh. (Cackle cackle.) Funding? That– and a nickel! As for those ‘rumors’ of a federal investigation into the Burlington College thing– lawyer up, Bernie and Jane! I’ll be hands-on at the Justice Department.”

The Burlington College Thing

Burlington is Vermont’s biggest city (pop 42,452) and the home turf of Bernie and Jane Sanders. From 2004 till 2011, Jane was president of Burlington College, a private, non-profit liberal arts college. Burlington College was very small and very progressive. Official slogan: “Start a fire”. (Presumably a socially transformative one, not just a wienie roaster.) The college closed this May after staggering along financially for years. The killing burden was a $10 million mortgage loan engineered by Jane Sanders in 2010. Jane’s goal was to expand Burlington College via relocation to a more impressive setting. At the time, the college was operating out of a former supermarket which served a surrounding blue collar neighborhood.

Until a few decades ago, Burlington was primarily a working and middle class town with naturally occurring affordable housing. Though there were certainly social divisions, it was a pretty laid back place. Teens called it “Borington”. Thanks to progressive planning by local pols (including former Mayor Bernie Sanders) and assorted public and private real estate players, Burlington has been transformed into a hip happening city blessed with stacks of cookie cutter condos attractive to wealthy folks with a taste for views of Lake Champlain. Not that affordable housing doesn’t exist– subsidized digs are available for the qualified. Social divisions? Considerably more pronounced.

Jane Sanders’ aim was to move Burlington College out of the supermarket and into a former Catholic orphanage set on thirty-some wooded acres overlooking Lake Champlain. The lake front land was traditionally treated as public parkland by locals. In its day, the orphanage had a sinister reputation; the building eventually transitioned into headquarters for the Burlington Catholic Diocese. It was/is a mound of Victorian stone. A big place for a student body of roughly 200 (130 full time) but Jane reasoned that if you buy it, they will come. And while the acreage was extensive much of the building was unusable due to disrepair, keeping the actual learning space cozy.

Jane arranged for the college to purchase the building and surrounding acreage from the Burlington Catholic Diocese. They were eager to sell. Their coffers had been depleted by $17 million in settlements paid to litigants claiming diocese leaders covered up for predatory priests.

The deal Jane Sanders engineered was a private/public combo platter. The Vermont Educational and Health Buildings Finance Agency issued $6.5 million in tax free revenue bonds. People’s United Bank bought the bonds; Vermont College was on the hook to People’s for principle and interest. Also in play– a $3.5 million loan from the Catholic Diocese (guess those litigants didn’t totally strip the coffers) and a “bridge loan” of $500,000 from local developer Tony Pomerleau, a vintage Sanders supporter.

Long story short: Burlington College wasn’t able to meet its obligations and this spring, People’s United Bank lowered the boom.

Attempts had been made to save the college. But fund raising efforts were inconsistent and the results disappointing. Student body growth never met projected numbers. In 2011, Jane Sanders was ousted/retired as president– with a $200,000 parachute. The next president was the college’s former chief financial officer and a friend-of-Jane. She quit a few years later after receiving a no-confidence vote from students, faculty and staff. Eventually, the acres of lake front land surrounding the college were sold to a developer. (More condos coming soon, affordable slots included!) The money from the sale was helpful but insufficient. And the college’s accreditation was set to be canceled, due to its long running financial woes.

The announcement that Burlington College was closing was made the day after this year’s graduation ceremonies. No warning was given, students and faculty were left scrambling. Many are still twisting in the wind over things such as financial arrangements, transcripts, and pension plans.

Whether recent rumors of a federal investigation played a part in the suddenness of the endgame are unknown.

The issue said to be of federal interest? Jane Sanders allegedly misrepresented the college’s assets and projected income to the tune of $2 million when engineering her purchase deal. (Among other things, a future death bequest was painted as money in hand.) And as we all know post housing-bubble collapse, fudging assets and income to obtain mortgage loans qualifies as bank fraud, a federal crime.

Of course, in her eagerness to “start a fire” Jane may have just made mistakes. Ones the college board of directors didn’t spot. And Jane still has the support of the Burlington Catholic Diocese; its leaders say proceeds from the sale of the college property (the college building was recently purchased by the same developer who bought the surrounding land) covered what they were owed. However, some parishioners are not so sanguine and want legal action.

Meanwhile, the last few Republican Party animals in Vermont have been writing letters to Washington, requesting a federal investigation. Their most recent missive even targeted Bernie; claiming they have credible info that Senator Sanders improperly pressed People’s United Bank to do Jane’s deal. Bernie’s spokespeople characterize the charges as political lies.

In normal times, I’d say Bernie and Jane have nothing to worry about. Questionable real estate deals involving politicians on their home turf are a dime a gazillion. Intent to defraud is hard to prove. And as we all know post housing-bubble collapse, mortgage shenanigans are rarely prosecuted. But these aren’t normal times. Hillary could become president. And with her, any stick will do to beat an enemy.

I like Bernie– even if he did help turn Burlington into one more Bobo Paradise. I admire his grit. His run has been inspirational in many ways. I voted for him in the New York State Democratic primary.

For his sake– and Jane’s– I’m praying Trump wins in November.

 

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The Working Class Rides Again!

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

work_or_riot_cropped

Holy moldering Marx, the working class is back! Drawn out of hiding by the Donald and Bernie. Cheerleaders for the Ownership Society who pushed subprime mortgages and equity draining as a substitute for NAFTA-gone jobs are aghast. As are devotees of identity politics. Solidarity Forever? Screw it. An overarching concept like class, with its multi cultural inclusiveness, could undermine decades of hard work fanning social divisions.

As for snobs on both sides of the political divide, for them it’s a real knuckle-drag to see the return of the “great unwashed”. Yes, West Virginia– there still are folks who use that phrase. Or think in its terms. That many of them are no better off economically or secure in their futures than the Morlocks they imagine and despise matters not. Illusions of superiority are as comforting as a baby’s blankie.

So– where has the working class been hiding? Answer: in plain sight. Only the term “working class” disappeared, not the actual people.

In an infamous scene from Sex & the City, the gals are discussing their sex lives (did they ever discuss anything else?) while getting a pedicure in a Korean nail salon. Miranda, a high-powered attorney, is dating a bartender. Charlotte, an art gallery manager with a wealthy husband, says the relationship has no future because a bartender is “working class”. The gals all laugh at such an archaic concept. Then the camera pans down to show the Korean women kneeling at their feet…

The term “working class” began fading out in the 1970’s; its erasure has been helpful politically to both left and right. The boon to the right is obvious; no working class means no need for organized labor. Not saying that not using the term is the sole reason unions have shrunk to a ghost of their former selves– just that it’s harder to organize people when they can’t name the group with whom their economic interests lie. And when that increasingly nameless group is made to appear ridiculous, boorish, and bigoted the organizing gets even harder. I mean, who wants to identify with–

Archie Bunker

Ah, Archie. The creation of liberal TV god Norman Lear, blue collar Archie ruled the sitcom world in All in the Family between 1971 and ’79. Talking trash with little cash. The latter wasn’t a sympathy factor, just another indicator of Archie’s social inferiority. Some claim Archie was an anti-hero and that white viewers secretly identified with him while pretending to scorn. But anti-heroes, after decades of cultural presence, tend to segue into respectability. So why does the term ”Archie Bunker” remain an insult?

Archie Bunker was an ugly stereotype. One that was allowed to stand because its target, the working class, was no longer deemed worthy of respect. Also because those being targeted were ambivalent about identifying as “working class”. Doing so flew in the face of middle class aspiration. Plus, the term was an ideological one associated with communism, our Cold War enemy, and in this country with hoary political groups still fighting the Stalin v. Trotsky wars. Many such groups featured the word “workers” in their titles. Comrades dressed the part, circa Woody Guthrie. The New Left called these groups “Old Left”. By 1971 their worker-centric influence had dwindled to an echo.

Not so New Left influence. Thanks to their piggy-backing the counterculture, rads of the New Left were hip and happening. Their cultural judgments carried weight. And from them, the working class got no respect.

Few groups on the New Left called themselves “worker” anything. In New Left minds, American workers had been corrupted by the success of organized labor and were now part of the problem not the solution. They had houses, cars, and televisions. Refrigerators full of beer. Cupboards stuffed with white bread. They worked in factories that belched pollutants and/or produced gas-guzzlers that carried people away from urban slums to suburban tract homes with lawns. (The New Left, with its amazing ability to intuit hidden motives, knew the exodus was really about racism not lawns.) But the biggest sin was support for the Vietnam War. That most working class people had kids, siblings, spouses, or friends fighting the war was no excuse. In Vietnam, the USA was Hitler. Which made all its supporters back home “good Germans”. Something New Left activists took great moral pride in not being.

Back to Norman Lear. Creator of Archie Bunker. Wealthy as hell but still an ace identifier of all things working class ugly, Lear has denounced Donald Trump. No surprise. Trump’s blue collar supporters are often called Archie. “Meathead” aka Rob Reiner, liberal son-in-law of apocryphal Archie, has also delivered a finger wag.  Apostle Meathead spreading his Creator’s Word…

One Last Thing

Thankfully for fans of the TV working class, Archie Bunker wasn’t the only blue collar guy to grace sets in the 70’s. There was also Detective Columbo of the LAPD. Underestimated. Rumpled. Smoking a cheap stogie, driving a beloved beater. Unlike Archie, Columbo never talked politics. All he did was ask homicide suspects gazillion nagging questions. Relentlessly. The payoff being his nailing arrogant elite types who thought they could get away with murder.

When I look at the people cheering Trump– and Sanders– at rallies in post-industrial places I don’t see the face of Archie Bunker. I see Columbo bringing it home. I can almost hear it…

“One last thing. Nothing important. I just need to clear up a few small details. It won’t take long. I know you need to get on with ruling. But first, can you tell me where you were when American jobs were being exported, cheap labor was being imported, and working class/middle class incomes were stagnating?”

Everybody into the beater!

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When Hitchens Met Clinton/Oh What a Lovely War!

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Farewell Christopher Hitchens. Gone but not forgotten. A memorial for Hitchens (he died in December) was held in late April in New York City. The New York Times announcement of the event touched on some high points of Hitchens’ career, including his 20 year stint as columnist at Vanity Fair. It also mentioned that Hitchens “had no compunction about jabbing his pen into sacred figures, like Mother Teresa, or ripe targets, like Henry Kissinger.” Not mentioned was the jab Hitchens gave President Bill Clinton. But then, No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton wasn’t a jab, it was a dissection. CSI with razor wit and moral scalpel.

No One Left to Lie To was originally published in 1999. Other editions followed and– silver lining to a cloud– it’s been reissued in light of Hitchens’ death. I just read it for the first time. A word of caution; reading No One Left aloud while a passenger in a moving vehicle is extremely dangerous. (It should probably be outlawed like texting while driving.) While zooming along the Thruway recently, my husband almost swerved off the road laughing as I read Hitchens’ skewer of a scene from Hillary Clinton’s It Takes a Village

One morning back in 1986, Bill, Hill, and child Chelsea were sitting round the breakfast table in the Arkansas governor’s mansion. Hill was explaining to Chelsea that Daddy was going to run for governor again. Saying that if he won “we would keep living in this house and he would keep trying to help people. But first we have to have an election”. The nasty part (besides the necessity of an election) was that bad people would be telling lies about Daddy to try to stop him from being re-elected:

‘Like most parents, we had told her that it was wrong to lie, and she struggled with the idea, saying over and over, “Why would people do that?” I didn’t have an answer for that one. (I still don’t.)’

It Takes a Village was published in 1996. That Hillary was still pondering why people lie at that late date seems to support Christopher Hitchens’ perception of her as “quite devoid of reflective capacity”.

When No One Left to Lie To first appeared a major flash point was Hitchens’ assertion, which he swore to in an affidavit during the impeachment process, that Sidney Blumenthal, prominent journalist and senior advisor to Bill Clinton, tried feeding him (Hitchens) a line about Monica Lewinsky being a delusional stalker who’d been “threatening” the president. (This was before Bill’s precious bodily fluids were found on Monica’s blue dress.) Blumenthal swore under oath he said no such thing.

Incidentally– or not– the question of Blumenthal as a Clinton funnel to the press arose again during the 2008 presidential race via a rumor that Blumenthal, who was affiliated with Hillary Clinton’s campaign, was leaking negative info about Barack Obama.

Sidney Blumenthal and Christopher Hitchens were professional friends. They also shared a background on the left. Hitchens was deeply disappointed in Blumenthal’s willingness to toss aside ethics and ideology in order to protect Bill Clinton. In general, Hitchens was appalled by the willingness of so many liberals to do likewise. The calculating fealty of party hacks wasn’t surprising. What bothered him profoundly were the delusions and moral evasions of those who felt that in protecting Clinton, they were protecting progressive liberalism.

The dissection of Bill (and Hill) by Hitchens in No One Left to Lie To was particularly irksome to Clinton defenders because it didn’t come from a member of the vast right wing conspiracy, but from someone who believed Clinton’s policies, foreign and domestic, betrayed liberal ideals. Hitchens also believed Bill Clinton’s political character was rotten to the core and that his sex scandals reflected that rot. Hence they were not purely personal and were open to scrutiny.

Finally, Hitchens believed the protective coloring Clinton received from the left helped him pull off the biggest lie of all; his lionization as Man of the People.

Clinton’s non-qualifications for that title are laid out extensively in No One Left. Among other things, Hitchens cited Clinton’s wag-the-dog bomb drops in Sudan and Iraq, his pandering to the middle class while whittling down welfare, and his embrace of capital punishment (in particular, his personal oversight of the execution of brain damaged Rickey Ray Rector) in order to dodge the Dukakis soft on crime bullet. Financial corruption and cronyism? No need to cover miles of familiar ground. Let’s just say Hitchens ran it down.

As for the sex scandals, Hitchens stressed abuse of power. As Arkansas attorney general and governor, and as president of the U.S., Bill Clinton consistently hit on women who were beneath him socially and susceptible to pressure. After the lovin’, Bill (and Hill) were never reluctant to go to war against inconvenient women. Enlisting official colleagues and political connections as needed.

One of the most searing sections in No One Left to Lie To deals with Bill Clinton’s alleged rape of nursing home operator Juanita Broaddrick in 1978, when Bill was Attorney General of Arkansas (the state’s chief law enforcement officer) and making his first run for governor. Hitchens lays out a convincing case for believing Broaddrick. Read it and weep. Or not.

Disclosure: In the 1970’s, I did volunteer work at several rape crisis centers. As a councilor, most of the stories I heard were totally believable. A few seemed to contain elements of falsehood. When Broaddrick first went public with her charges in 1999, I didn’t immediately assume Bill Clinton’s other scandals made him capable of rape. But after seeing Broaddrick tell her story on TV, reading pro and con accounts, and comparing her to women I’d known as a councilor, I believed her. My own experience of rape (in the 70s, most rape crisis centers were staffed by rape survivors) made that conclusion extra disturbing.

Also disturbing was how little the possibility that Broaddrick’s story was true mattered to Clinton’s defenders on the left. These were the people who were supposed to be pro-woman. Saying rape wasn’t about sex but power. Decrying the social stigma that kept women silent. Urging them to come forward, promising support and belief. Juanita Broaddrick might well have asked “Ain’t I a woman?

The chapter in No One Left titled Is There a Rapist in the Oval Office? closes with this: “the mute reception of Jaunita Broaddrick’s charges illuminates the expiring, decadent phase of American liberalism.”

Before wrapping the chapter, Christopher Hitchens had a high time describing how presidential candidate Al Gore dithered and dissembled when a woman in the audience at a 1999 campaign event asked him if he believed Juanita Broaddrick.

When Hitchens was good, he was very very good. But he did have bad hair days…

Hitchens’ anti-religious writings too often read like screeds. One picks up a whiff of obsession. And his support for the war in Iraq was rife with the same types of moral evasions he derided in Clinton’s enablers. Hitchens’ passion for truth-above-all went south. That 9/11 was used by the Bush administration as an excuse to launch a war against a country that had nothing to do with the attack mattered not. If the American public was manipulated into supporting that war through lies about WMD and images of incipient mushroom clouds, the end justified the means.

This from the man who wrote Why Orwell Matters.

Which by the way, is an excellent book. And as the memory holes open around our feet, a perfect election year read.

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Mortgage Settlement Madness!

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

There have to be clowns. Without them, we might cry a river during election years. Pinching your nose while voting brings tears to the eyes of many. So send in the clowns. Or at least– a really sharp comedy.

Some clarification as to what counts as comic. The Mitt/Newt/Rick Show and MSM’s Fist Pump 4 Obama are stale. They keep working the same lines and pratfalls. Not all old shows are dullsville. The Government Real Estate Game is hoary as hell but keeps reinventing itself. The latest twist:

Mortgage Settlement Madness!

Honk-a-dollar. As in, the 25 billion of ’em coughed up by five mega lenders via the national mortgage servicer settlement. Also called the national foreclosure settlement. The lenders who hit homeowners with funky foreclosures and hence had to cough are Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Ally Financial Inc. Ally is the loan artist formerly known as GMAC. Why the name change? Cause “everybody needs an Ally”*.

Fun factoids about GMAC aka Ally: In 2008, the US Treasury invested $5 billion in GMAC (a sub of General Motors) from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). In 2009, they added 7.5 billion, giving the government a majority stake in GMAC. In 2010, GMAC “rebranded” itself as Ally Financial Inc. By January, 2012, TARP had 12 billion invested in GMAC/Ally.

Is Ally’s slice of the mortgage settlement being served by TARP?

If so, please notify Peter he’s being robbed to pay Paul.

The Obama administration in the form of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder pushed the mortgage servicer settlement; 49 state attorney generals added their heft. A few balked at first. Not enough money for my state said some. Others were bugged that the settlement scotched legal actions supposedly in the hopper. (The ultimate deal doesn’t nix actions re other bads the AGs may have discovered when investigating foreclosure abuses. Future prosecutions could still take place in the future.) New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was the scariest holdout. He was in the belly of the Wall Street beast. He was gonna get them bastids!

Compassion for struggling homeowners– and quid pro quo– eventually won over the AGs. The settlement will help homeowners avoid foreclosure via various programs (insert pratfall sound effect here) and in some cases, mortgage modifications. About 750,000 victims of foreclosure fouls will receive $2000 each. No mule though.

Not all homeowners will qualify for assistance. Selections must be made. Homeowners best get busy kissing butt on their local politicized housing scene; non profit housing helpers will be guiding the mortgage settlement dispensation.

By the time the settlement makes it to local levels, there will be less to dispense. Hands at higher levels are already helping themselves.

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) immediately skimmed $1 billion from the payout kicked in by Bank of America (BofA). Apparently BofA boffed the FHA with a boatload of bad loans. Poor FHA. Their taxpayer-backed loan portfolio is always giving them trouble. As for BofA, they must have really been macking around. Their part of the settlement is the heftiest.

State pols are also swarming the mortgage settlement, with governors and state reps claiming that since the busted housing bubble busted their budgets they deserve a piece of the pie.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (Democrat) wants to use almost all of his state’s $41 million cut as a budget plug. The state legislature leaders (Republican) say Yay Jay. In Pennsylvania, Dems are pushing the Republican attorney general to channel settlement funds into poverty programs. Maryland’s attorney general will give 10% of the state’s settlement cut to Governor Martin O’Malley (Democrat) and state reps “to spend as they choose”**.

Just when you think Mortgage Settlement Madness! couldn’t get any funnier, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (Republican) flaps onto the stage with a plan to use $26 million of the foreclosure rescue fund to plug his budget hole. This from the Friend-Of-All-Homeowners.

It also seems funny (as in “weird”) that state attorney generals will be dispensing money to public officials from a national settlement made by major financial institutions under threat of legal action by the very same attorney generals. The AGs’ leeway to control the cash was a crucial part of the mortgage settlement deal. Overall, the settlement is an attorney general power enhancer.

An oft asked question is why the financial crash of 2008 and the massive taxpayer bailouts that ensued didn’t lead to any prosecutions of major players. One of the answers– and there are many, none of which go down easy– may be that our state attorney generals increasingly treat financial crime in high places as a power tool and revenue source rather than something to be prosecuted.

Meanwhile, out in the lesser criminal fields, the mortgage servicer settlement is sparking new grifts. According to a press release*** by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, scammers in that state are already working the “landmark settlement”. (North Carolina’s banking commissioner incidentally, will be overseeing the mortgage servicer settlement.) Calling homeowners and promising I can get you a piece of the settlement but first I’ll need your bank account number…

The Government Real Estate Game has done it again. Mortgage Settlement Madness! promises to be a comedy keeper.

*ally/Ally Financial, FAQs, Why is GMAC rebranding to Ally Financial, Inc.? 2010

**Some money from mortgage settlement to be diverted, David A. Lib, Associated Press, 02/22/12

***Watch out for sham mortgage settlement calls, AG warns, North Carolina Department of Justice, 02/22/12

 

 

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Envisioning Occupy Wall Street as software, service

by David Solomonoff

The impact of the Occupy Wall Street movement goes far beyond a traditional protest around specific issues. The ability to rapidly respond to changing situations, a horizontal rather than vertical structure and an open source approach to developing news tools and strategies will be as significant in the long term – perhaps more so. The medium is definitely the message here.

 

In Forbes, E. D. Kain writes about how Occupy Wall Street protesters are engaging in a roll-reversal where the surveilled are surveilling the surveillers:

If the pepper-spraying incident at UC Davis had happened before smart phones and video phones, it would have been the word of the protesters against the word of the police. If this had all happened before the internet and blogs and social media, it would have taken ages before the old media apparatus would have found the wherewithal to track down the truth and then disseminate that information.
Now the incident goes viral … Strangely, though, the police act as though these new realities don’t exist or don’t matter.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2011/11/19/maybe-its-time-to-occupy-the-police-state/

 

In The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal suggests one their biggest accomplishments has been to facilitate other protests in the same way a software interface allows programmers to access and re-purpose data on the Internet:

Metastatic, the protests have an organizational coherence that’s surprising for a movement with few actual leaders and almost no official institutions. Much of that can be traced to how Occupy Wall Street has functioned in catalyzing other protests. Local organizers can choose from the menu of options modeled in Zuccotti, and adapt them for local use. Occupy Wall Street was designed to be mined and recombined, not simply copied.
This idea crystallized for me yesterday when Jonathan Glick, a long-time digital journalist, tweeted, “I think #OWS was working better as an API than a destination site anyway.”
API is an acronym for Application Programming Interface.

What an API does, in essence, is make it easy for the information a service contains to be integrated with the wider Internet. So, to make the metaphor here clear, Occupy Wall Street today can be seen like the early days of Twitter.com. Nearly everyone accessed Twitter information through clients developed by people outside the Twitter HQ. These co-developers made Twitter vastly more useful by adding their own ideas to the basic functionality of the social network. These developers don’t have to take in all of OWS data or use all of the strategies developed at OWS. Instead, they can choose the most useful information streams for their own individual applications (i.e. occupations, memes, websites, essays, policy papers).

The metaphor turns out to reveal a useful way of thinking about the components that have gone into the protest.

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/print/2011/11/a-guide-to-the-occupy-wall-street-api-or-why-the-nerdiest-way-to-think-about-ows-is-so-useful/248562/

John Robb examines their progress from the perspective of military strategist John Boyd:

The dynamic of Boyd’s strategy is to isolate your enemy across three essential vectors (physical, mental, and moral), while at the same time improving your connectivity across those same vectors. It’s very network centric for a pre-Internet theoretician.

Physical. No isolation was achieved. The physical connections of police forces remained intact. However, these incidents provided confirmation to protesters that physical filming/imaging of the protests is valuable. Given how compelling this media is, it will radically increase the professional media’s coverage of events AND increase the number of protesters recording incidents.

Mental. These incidents will cause confusion within police forces. If leaders (Mayors and college administrators) back down or vacillate over these tactics due to media pressure, it will confuse policemen in the field. In short, it will create uncertainty and doubt over what the rules of engagement actually are. IN contrast, these media events have clarified how to turn police violence into useful tools for Occupy protesters.

Moral. This is the area of connection that was damaged the most. Most people watching these videos feel that this violence is both a) illegitimate and b) excessive.

http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2011/11/occupy-note-112011-boyd-pepper-spray-and-tools-of-compliance-ows.html

Following on Robb’s point, the videos also increase the moral liability of journalists and politicians who attack and denounce the movement.

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Update: Gingrich bumps Corzine as Batman’s Two-Face!

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

It takes a lot to shock Hollywood. But the news that Newt Gingrich has bumped Jon Corzine as supervillain Two-Face in the next Batman is making jaws drop in Dream City. Corzine was reportedly in like Flynn; his duplicitous doings at MF Global made him Two-Face to the max. Sure, Jon had heavy competition from the powers-that-be at Penn State, but sports figures often flop on the big screen. (See OJ in assorted  turkeys.) Sources close to Batman’s producers say Jon was already sitting for his Two-Face make-up when a story broke at Bloomberg about Newt Gingrich being paid $1.6 million over eight years for acting as advisor to housing bubble enabler Freddie Mac.

So what sez you, what’s Two-Face about that? Well kiddies, ever since the bubble-derived economic meltdown of 2008, Gingrich has been a humongous critic of Freddie Mac and its partner in crime (the kind that never gets prosecuted) Fannie Mae. Even saying that Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank ought to go to jail for his tight past relationship with Freddie Mac’s lobbyists.

Does this epitomize Two-Face or what? Batman’s producers did a Molly Bloom and said “yes”. Jon out, Newt in.

Prior to 2008, Newt (gotta love that name ) allegedly buzzed into the ears of Freddie Mac lobbyists, telling them how to sell the “company’s public-private structure” in a way “that would resonate with conservatives seeking to dismantle it”. Meanwhile, at the White House, top Freddie Mac lobbyist Mitchell Delk channeled Newt when pitching expanded home ownership programs to President Bush. The channeling took place during the period when Freddie and Fannie were hot to roll out ever more extreme experiments in mortgage-derived madness. (Lest we forget, Freddie and Fannie aren’t lenders; they buy and securitize mortgages, turning them into taxpayer-backed investment fodder.) According to Delk, Dubya was hip to what the political bennies “could be for Republicans and…. their relationship with Hispanics.”

Not that Dubya was all opportunism and no ideals. Remember The Ownership Society? It opened well among neocons, then nosedived into bailout land. So far, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (or is it “Mack”?) have raked in roughly $169 billion of rescue. Both say they need more. Much more. Freddie alone is seeking $1.8 billion.

Question: Should Newt Gingrich kick his Batman bux back to taxpayers? I say “yes!” His turn as Freddie Mac’s Janus landed him the way cooler role of Two-Face. He owes us big time…

 

 

 

 

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Mexican Authorities Bust Communication Tower Used by Cartel

by David Solomonoff

Another case where non-traditional players are providing services and infrastructure that previously only government and government-approved monopolies could:
> The Mexican government busted a narco-communications system just > across the border in Reynosa.
>
> Pictures taken by Mexican soldiers detail the level of sophistication. > They’re narco-towers, communication equipment set up by the cartel and > busted by the Mexican government in Reynosa.
>
> It’s proof that the cartels’ pockets run deep. A total of nine > antennas were busted by Mexican officials during last week’s > operation. Experts believe the cartel is having to create its own > network because the government controls much of Mexico’s infrastructure. http://www.krgv.com/news/local/story/Mexican-Authorities-Bust-Communication-T…

via Global Guerillas, http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com

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Corzine to play Two-Face in new Batman!

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Corzine as Two-Face

This just in from Hollywood– Jon Corzine, who until about a week ago was Top Dog in the tanking Wall Street unreality series My Own Private MF Global has been cast as supervillain Two-Face in the next Batman opus. Buzz sez Bat producer Michael Uslan saw the Reuters piece The Two Faces of Jon Corzine and after reading it, got Jon on the honker. According to sources, what really wowed Uslan were these lines:

…Corzine sounded like a real Wall Street reformer during [a] speech at Princeton in September 2010, titled After the Crash: Regulating the New American Economy.…Corzine said he generally supported much of the financial regulatory law known as Dodd-Frank and believed it would lead to less risk taking on Wall Street…Corzine went on to say it was unacceptable that some of Wall Street’s biggest players were leveraging shareholders’ equity at a ratio above 30 to 1 going into the financial crisis…Yet just before [Corzine’s company] MF Global filed for bankruptcy, the firm was operating with a leverage ratio of 33 to 1…

Like, how Two-Face is that? If anyone needs more proof Corzine is perfect for the part, check this from the Newark Star Ledger:

[Corzine] has also has emerged as a key lobbyist against proposed rules that would have restricted firms such as his from, among other things, borrowing customer money to make investments.

Those rules Boys & Girls, are part of the same Dodd-Frank reform law Corzine “supported”!

Weird coincidence: Senator Chris Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank, whose names top the regulatory bill Corzine sought to undermine, were also offered the role of Two-Face (one half Dodd, the other Frank) due to their star turns in Housing Bubble: The Monster that Ate Wall Street. Both turned it down. Citing their busy schedules as financial reformers.

Though not first choice as Two-Face, Corzine jumped at producer Uslan’s offer. Snapping back “Mister, I was made for it.” Demonstrating his film savvy by channeling Tyrone Power as the master con turned chicken-chomping geek in the classic noir, Nightmare Alley.

Talking pop culture history, the original Two-Face, as created by DC Comics in the 1940s, was a good guy gone supervillain wrong. Two-Face was once Harvey Dent, the reformer district attorney of Gotham City. But Dent goes bonkers after a criminal tosses acid on him, hideously deforming one side of his face. Dent embraces his “Two-Face” and becomes a crime boss.

Fans who’ve followed Corzine’s political career know he too once appeared a reformer. In 2000, he shelled out $62 million for the role of senator from New Jersey in Mr. Corzine Goes to Washington. It was a short run; in 2005, Jersey’s political bosses on the D side cast Corzine as governor. Many in the voting audience believed the wealth Corzine garnered as former chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs (1994-99) would make him immune to sleaze. The myth of the gazillionaire political savior rides again. Hope springs eternal, even in Jersey. Reviewers gave Corzine a Golden Turkey .

Inquiring minds want to know– who tossed acid on Jon Corzine and when did it happen? When he was a Jersey pol or Goldman CEO?* Or way earlier, when Corzine was climbing the Wall Street ladder in the American Psycho ’80s?**

Past is past. Big things are happening here & now for Jon. Thanks to the sudden collapse of MF Global, the mysterious disappearance of roughly $600 million of its customer funds, and the possible co-mingling of customer and company money (a regulatory no no), Corzine will now be starring in a series of federal and state investigations, plus civil litigations produced by some of the hottest firms in the biz.

Corzine has hired Andrew Levander, a former assistant U.S. attorney to help him handle the load. Levander’s celebrity clients have included John Thain, Merrill Lynch’s former boss, and Ezra Merkin, a former associate of Bernie Madoff.

Even with such high-powered assistance, Corzine won’t have much time for his usual social whirl…

Right before MF folded like a cheap Goldman, Jon Corzine was spotted on Wall Street bundling mega campaign donations for President Obama– in hopes of replacing crony capitalist superstar Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary. (Imagine the boffo box office if MF Global had tanked after Corzine was appointed!) While bundling, Corzine sported full frontal Two-Face. Knowing his fellow players would dig the ironic Lon Chaney.

Though the Treasury appointment is now gone with the wind, don’t cry for Corzine. Being in a Batman beats hanging with the too-big-to-fail. And if the Bat doesn’t fly, there’s always the circus. Buzz sez the geek routine is making a big comeback. New twist; biting the heads off free range chickens. (First you gotta catch ’em.) And my buddy Buzz is always right about trends.

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

*Trivia: Corzine’s illustrious co-stars at Goldman included his protégé, mortgage banker and bond trader Kevin Ingram. After racking up mega losses at Deutsche Bank in 1998, Ingram went on to star as a money launderer for a B movie bunch of Jersey-based terror plotters.

**More trivia: the film version of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho starred pre-Batman Christian Bales in the title role. Think Bruce Wayne, through a glass darkly.

 

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Occupy Albany: Trick Or Treat?

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Happy Halloween! Last weekend, New York Governor Andy Cuomo ordered his dog, Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, to have state and city cops chase Occupy Albany campers out of a downtown park in the Capital City. But oops, both sets of cops (and Albany County District Attorney David Soares) balked. Lots of reasons. Some jake, some not. Among the latter, law enforcement concern (according to Soares) that a forcible removal would trigger a simpatico, bad publicity action by the riotous Kegs N’ Eggs SUNY kids up in Pine Hills, aka the Student Ghetto. As if! Beer isn’t being served by Occupy Albany. Question: is Governor Andy snarling about his lack of authority? Will he punish bad dog Jerry by withholding bacon bacon bacon? And finally– can Occupy Albany attract real folks not just the usual aged-in-wood suspects? Here’s hoping. Sincerely.

Andy's Trick or Treat

 

 

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Cambodia’s Curse, Mexico’s Manana, Reckless Endangerment Stateside

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

My summer reading this year kicked off with Cambodia’s Curse: the Modern History of a Troubled Land by former New York Times reporter Joel Brinkley. Brinkley won a Pulitzer in 1980 for his coverage (at the Louisville Courier Journal) of the fall of the Khmer Rouge.

The title Cambodia’s Curse bugs me. Though cultures resistant to change create illusions of inevitability, and a genocidal past casts long shadows, no nation or people are truly cursed. Nor do I buy Brinkley’s attempt to place partial blame for Cambodian acceptance of the Khmer Rouge on passivity engendered by the influence of Theravada Buddhism and Hinduism. First, it’s a simplistic take on the two religions, both of which are practiced in numerous countries that never exterminated a quarter of their own people in an effort to create a communist utopia. Second, countries with far different religious heritages have also had totalitarian holocausts. Germany and the Soviet Union most notably, respectively representing the right and the left.

As for Cambodian passivity, it must come and go– judging by the perpetual political turmoil of Cambodia in the 20th Century, and by the recent grass roots resistance to the land grabbing, population displacing, development policies of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Caveats aside, Curse author Joel Brinkley does a swell job nailing the crony-rich corruption of Cambodia’s current government as headed by Hun Sen. Whose honorary title of “Samdech” (akin to “your excellency”) was awarded him in 1993 by Cambodia’s amazingly tenacious King Norodom Sihanouk. Easy to imagine the retired (sort of) Sihanouk doing Karaoke of I Will Survive. Dubbed the world’s most versatile pol by the Guinness Book of Records, Sihanouk has surfed wave after wave of political change since 1941. Sometimes wearing his crown, sometimes not. Using his royal influence to legitimize the Khmer Rouge in one decade and deep-six them in another. Dancing with ideologies of all stripes, telling foreigners bearing aid and investment whatever they want to hear.

Prime Minister Hun Sen is also a marvel of tenacity. In 1975, as a Khmer Rouge battalion commander, Hun Sen took part in the campaign in the eastern zone of Democratic Kampuchea (Cambodia’s name under the Khmer Rouge) that included the invasion of the capital city of Phnom Penh and the forced evacuation— aka death march– of its entire population to a rural paradise of forced labor. By the late 70’s, Pol Pot and his pals in the upper echelons of the Khmer Rouge were imploding with paranoia. Hun Sen sensed the reaper was turning his way. When Vietnam, after a series of border disputes, invaded Cambodia in 1979 and overthrew the Khmer Rouge, Hun Sen rode in with them and was given a top spot in the government installed by the Vietnamese.

Years of civil war followed. The Cold War shaped the conflict. The Soviet Union backed the repressive Vietnamese government; the USA and China supported the rebel remains of the murderous Khmer Rouge. Arms flowed from all sides. In the early 1990’s, as the Soviet Union waned, the Vietnamese departed. The Khmer Rouge dwindled. Little dictator (compared to Pol Pot) Hun Sen remained in place as prime minister. To placate international good government types bearing financial aid, he was eventually forced to accept a toothless coalition government representing parties other than his own. Dissidents are still persecuted. An independent judiciary? Freedom of speech? Who needs the lies and distortions?

Meanwhile, the handful of elderly Khmer Rouge leaders charged with crimes against humanity will probably keel over before their trials are allowed to conclude and the bureaucrats, speculators, and family members favored by Hun Sen continue to help themselves to Cambodia.

As for Cambodia’s established reformers, the go-to guys when foreign policy players from other countries require an anti-Hun Sen, they seem almost as seasoned, agenda-wise, as Sihanouk and his Samdech.

An aside about my being a mental tourist in flailing states. Yeah, there’s the appeal of the morbidly exotic. But there’s also the illuminating shock of recognition. What past or present resident of a flailing post-industrial city in say, New Jersey or New York, hasn’t seen similar political stasis? With old boys and hoary reformers as the fixed poles of political expression? Old boys rule; reformers wax profitably pious. Both sides (if the two ends of a continuum can be called “sides”) claim revitalization is just around the next public-funded corner. They may squabble over who gets paid but always agree on the need for more more more.

OK. Hun Sen and his cronies in Cambodia make our crowd seem like pikers. But to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, we’re just haggling over degree. For folks interested in U.S. urban policy (or in improving their looting skills) Cambodia’s Curse is an instructive read.

Now Reading: Mexico

I recently started reading Manana Forever? Mexico and the Mexicans by Jorge Castaneda, Mexico’s former foreign minister. Only a few chapters in, so I can’t say much about it. But I have been brushing up on Mexico via other sources. My hitherto casual interest was amped last year by the flap over Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comparison of Mexico to Columbia during that country’s narco insurgency days. Hillary’s take was testily denounced by President Obama– and by the Mexican government. As an example of difference in the two situations, Mexico’s national security advisor pointed out that Mexico has never “elected a drug lord such as Pablo Escobar to congress”.

Wags might reply why buy the cow when milk is so cheap.

InSight, a think tank site focused on research, analysis and investigation of organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, recently ran an article (Mayor Goes Free, Mexico Fails Again to Prosecute ‘Corrupt’ Politicians) about the growing number of Mexican pols whose arrests on cartel-related charges have dissolved into non-prosecution. Including Gregorio Sanchez, the former mayor of Cancun,  Jorge Hank Rhon, the former mayor of Tijuana, and dozens of state and local officials in the state of Michoacan.

Mexico has 31 states (14 of which are on the U.S. State Department’s travel warning list) and a federal district. In late July, roughly 21 state prosecutors (a job akin to being a United States Attorney) resigned. Leaving the states and Mexico’s federal district temporarily without top cops. No reason given.

Zones of Silence

In June, Mexican reporter Ricardo Chavez Aldana (a native of Ciudad Juarez) spoke at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ annual meeting in Florida. Chavez was among several reporters who told of being threatened and of having relatives and/or colleagues murdered by drug cartels. June was a “particularly grim month” for journalists all over Mexico. On June 20th well-known crime reporter Miguel Angel Lopez Velasco and his wife and son were murdered in Veracruz. Another Veracruz journalist had been found in a shallow grave three weeks earlier. On June 7th, armed men abducted an editor of an Acapulco newspaper from a bar and on June 13th, a reporter for two dailies in the state of Sonora (bordering Arizona) was shot to death in an abduction attempt.

Also in June: a report titled Corruption, Impunity, Silence: The War on Mexico’s Journalists, by PEN Canada and the International Human Rights Program (IHRP) at the University of Toronto blasted “the Mexican government’s repeated failure to protect the human rights of journalists, its complicity in a number of rights violations against them, and the web of Mexican laws that limit freedom of expression and effectively gag journalists who seek to expose government corruption”.

During the same month the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) upped Mexico to #8 (among the top 10 countries) on its Impunity Index; the index calculates unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of a country’s population. According to CPI “deadly anti-press violence continued to climb in Mexico, where authorities appear powerless in bringing killers to justice.”

In 2010, Mexico’s own National Human Rights Commission reported that at least 66 journalists had been killed since 2005 and 12 others had disappeared. Mexican officials claim not all murdered or kidnapped reporters are targeted because of journalism activities. Most recently in the case of police reporter Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz. On July 26th, her decapitated corpse was found on a street in Veracruz. Colleagues say she was investigating the murder of fellow reporter Miguel Angel Lopez Velasco and his family and had received anonymous death threats. The top prosecutor for the state of Veracruz denies her murder was linked to her work.

Boosters for tourism in Mexico often imply only people involved in drugs or those who don’t mind their own business are in danger. But in a country where drug cartel terrorism has created news blackouts in journalistic zones of silence, government corruption is supported by laws that limit speech, and where 70% of all federal arrests dissolve into dropped charges and the overall rate of impunity for criminal activity is eye popping, the true number and nature of victims, be they reporters, average citizens, or foreign tourists and workers, may be difficult to ascertain.

In the meantime, the Mexico Tourism Board, under the leadership of newly appointed Chief Marketing Officer Gerardo Llanes is seeking to tidy up Mexico’s image. Llanes, who in his prior position helped launch Diet Coke in Mexico, is reaching out to U.S. media outlets like Bloomberg, Newsweek, and CNN in order to help them “get the facts straight”. Llanes and the Tourism Board will cite “swimming with whale sharks and camping” as a few of Mexico’s attractions in an upbeat publicity campaign tagged “The Place You Thought You Knew”.

Twinge of recognition: in flailing post-industrial cities stateside, political boosters always claim that the crime afflicting their bailiwick is merely a matter of perception. They also revile and/or try to work the messengers who deliver the perception. And true crime stats are always elusive.

A word about Jorge Castaneda’s Manana Forever. In it Castaneda references (negatively) the Mexican proverb: “El que no transa no avanza”. Whoever doesn’t trick or cheat gets nowhere.

The Last Book of Summer

I’m on a waiting list at my local library (I don’t do tablets– too much like Etch A Sketch) for Reckless Endangerment by Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner. A nice cozy read about all the folks in the Washington Wall Street nexus who pumped the real estate bubble that distorted our economy and then picked the public pocket when the Ponzi collapsed. I don’t expect Reckless to be a shocker, more like the kind of mystery where you know who-done-it right from the beginning but enjoy seeing how the perp is brought to justice. Oh. Wait. None of the major housing bubble perps were brought to justice. In fact, most are doing better than ever.

El que no transa no avanza!

 

 

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